A mother whose three-year-old son starved to death because he took part in a religious fast while suffering from paranoid schizophrenia is being held in hospital under the Mental Health Act.
Olabisi Abubakar’s mind was “thrown out of balance” by the Covid lockdown and worries about her immigration status and she started denying food, fasting and prayers for herself and her baby, Taiwo, and save the world from coronavirus.
Abubakar, 42, was found not guilty of manslaughter and child cruelty by an insanity jury at Cardiff crown court but on Tuesday Judge Jefford ordered her to be held in a clinic in south Wales.
The judge said that Abubakar was still suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and that she could “pose a risk of serious harm to the public” if she was released in her current state.
Jefford said that until she became ill, Abubakar was a “good and caring mother” and that Taiwo was “happy, loved and well cared for”.
She said Abubakar, who was claiming asylum, was a very religious person who attended Pentecostal churches and would fast as part of her faith as a means of focusing on God and prayer.
But there was stress in her life, the judge said, including difficulties with a neighbor in the small Cardiff house where she is buried, worries about her immigration status and money worries.
When the first Covid lockdown was imposed, Abubakar became very isolated. “You had a particular concern and fear about Covid,” Jefford said. “Your difficulties with your neighbor grew into a paranoid belief. Those paranoid beliefs interacted with your religious beliefs and you began to fast more and more.
“Your reasons for fasting were well-intentioned. You thought it would bring you God’s blessings and protections, [Taiwo] and the nation. Indeed, the impact was devastating. You had fasted to the extreme for three or four months.”
When the police made their way into her apartment after a friend raised the alarm, Abubakar, originally from Nigeria, was thin, malnourished and dehydrated and Taiwo’s body was limp. He had been dead for some time, weighing just 9.8kg (1st 5lb), and pathologists determined he had suffered from malnutrition and dehydration.
The judge said: “You were caught too [Taiwo] in the fasting that your church teaches you should never do in tragic circumstances.”
Friends and neighbors said Abubakar’s mental health problems were exacerbated by a lack of social support. They have questioned why she and Taiwo were moved to Cardiff from London when she had no support network in the Welsh capital.
Plaid Cymru said the case showed “an appalling failure of public services at multiple levels” and called for an investigation.
The case followed two other high-profile deaths of children in lockdown in Wales: five-year-old Logan Mwangi, his mother, partner and stepson were murdered after largely disappearing from sight during Covid; and the parents of teenager Kaylea Titford were jailed for manslaughter last month after she died of morbid obesity, having been neglected during lockdown.
Abubakar first came to London in September 2011, fleeing an unhappy marriage. She was sent to Cardiff after claiming asylum.
For supplies and food, Abubakar was directed to Lynx House, which had been strongly criticized the previous year for forcing asylum seekers who lived on the premises or used brightly colored bands to wear them.
A friend who tried to help her said she was given £35 a week to live on, which was not enough as she had to send money to family in Nigeria.
Consultant forensic psychiatrist, Tom Wynne, told the court that Abubakar was “off balance and his mind was disturbed by anxiety”. He said: “She was alone at home with little support.”